The Vancouver Park Board’s decision to ban cetaceans at the Vancouver Aquarium could result in a death sentence for injured, sick or orphaned mammals along B.C.’s coastline.
It’s the reason the Vancouver Aquarium launched a public awareness campaign on Thursday to save its Marine Mammal Rescue Program, which helps more than 100 mammals found annually along our province’s coastline.
Most of the mammals, the aquarium says, are treated, rehabilitated and successfully released back into the wild by the centre. But for some mammals — like Chester the false killer whale and a harbour porpoise named Daisy, who are currently receiving ongoing care through the rescue centre and cannot make it on their own in the wild — they need a place to call home. That’s where the aquarium comes in.
But now that could change with the park board’s proposed bylaw, which passed unanimously in March, to end cetacean captivity at the aquarium.
That decision, Vancouver Aquarium CEO Dr. John Nightingale says, has an impact that extends far beyond the walls of their facility.
“[Due to some mammals and] the extent of their injuries and/or lack of basic survival skills, [it] means that returning to the wild would be a death sentence,” Nightingale says.
The rescue program is the only hospital and care facility of its kind in Canada and depending on the final wording of the park board bylaw, there may be no more second chances for B.C. cetaceans in distress as of May.
Going forward, if the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) discovers an injured cetacean, there will be nowhere for them to live if they cannot be released. Instead “alternative” options like euthanasia would have to be considered, the DFO’s Dr. John Ford said in March.
The motion to ban cetaceans has a long history in Vancouver, but was brought up again shortly after the aquarium’s two remaining belugas died suddenly in November 2016.
Since their deaths, the park board said ongoing protests were being held at board meetings and at the Vancouver Aquarium. Multiple online petitions against captivity and email campaigns targeting elected park board and City officials also surfaced.
In addition to the aquarium and DFO speaking out against the park board’s ban, an aquarium and zoo industry group also believes the proposed bylaw will have repercussions.
Dan Ashe of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums said in March that if the board prohibits whales, dolphins and porpoises at the facility it will hinder scientific research supporting conservation and deprive visitors from the opportunity to see marine mammals up close.
The Vancouver Aquarium is asking members of the public to use their online platform to send a short letter to the park board expressing their support for the Marine Mammal Rescue Program.
~ with files from Linda Aylesworth, Jill Slattery and Canadian Press